The last time I was in a hammock was at my friend’s house. I was about 15 years old, and when I went to sit in it, I miscalculated how far back I could lean my head. I fell backwards, bruising my tailbone, pride, and patience for hammocks.
Fast forward several years, when I found myself in a very different type of hammock, wary but hopeful. I was about to experience aerial yoga with Brianne at Epidavros Center for Wellbeing in Gresham, Oregon.
The hammock I was climbing into isn’t your average backyard hammock. Made of durable nylon about five feet wide, it’s big enough to support the entire body with the legs either folded into butterfly position or left dangling. You can lie back in it, sit in it, straddle it, and use it as a sling…or a swing. The height of the hammock can be adjusted easily depending on the pose. The hammocks also have handles that can be used for the hands and feet. In fact, I slipped my feet through the handles towards the end of the class for a fully supported savasana.
Many people find aerial yoga enjoyable because it’s so accessible. In traditional mat yoga, some poses like pigeon and inversions (e.g. handstands) are limited to those who have spent a long time practicing and gaining flexibility. Aerial yoga lets practitioners of all levels experience these important yoga poses without unnecessarily stressing the body. It can be especially helpful for standing poses that some may find difficult to execute.
During the class, we moved easily from a hammock-supported downward dog into a full inversion. The hardest part about it was experiencing the rush of blood to my head — something I’d never fully experienced with a normal handstand, but only because I’d never been able to hold a headstand for that long.
It wasn’t the inversion that hooked me though. It was pigeon pose. Pigeon pose is a great hip opener, but proper execution depends on already having a lot of flexibility and strength throughout the rest of the body. I’ve done it a few uncomfortable times, but with the hammock adjusted to about hip height, I was able to slip my folded leg in and leaned forward into standing pigeon pose. Ahhh…I’ve never felt my lower body stretch like that!
Much to my pleasant surprise, the initial learning curve for aerial yoga is pretty short. By the time warm up was complete, I felt comfortable navigating in and around my hammock for the rest of practice. And contrary to one of my initial hesitations (that I’d need to have great balance to make up for the hammock’s swinging action), I found that aerial yoga helps boost your balance, not take it away.
Whether you’re an experienced yogi looking to wake up your practice, or you’re new to yoga altogether and looking to get involved, aerial yoga is a great practice to try. It helps you move and stretch the way you want to. But most importantly, it’s fun, too!